Master of plenty! Brian Stone album is OUT NOW!

Brian Stone releasing his debut album is definitely a good reason to dust the cobwebs off the blog again – I was really chuffed when he got in touch to ask if I was still reviewing stuff.  Admittedly I’m doing so much less fervently these days – so getting a download link and getting everything synced across to my phone felt quite exciting – I could get a few listens in before getting to grips with writing up a review.  Also that residual nervousness, it’s a mate’s blood sweat and tears you’re being expected to somehow do justice to in words.  Well, I’ll give it a go!

I was reflecting when I first got to know Brian, I think it was at a Gaz Brookfield gig in Oakham, Rutland when we first got talking a good few years ago now – about three and half years ago he and Karen kindly provided me a bed for the night after Ferocious Dog played Cambridge.  After that gig he casually picked up his guitar apologetically before playing through some FD, Gaz Brookfield and Leatherat songs – always one to play down his talents – which quickly became a fixture around campfires and then of course stages over quite a short timespan really if you think about it!

What I particularly love about this album is the assemblage of lots of friends to add their instrumentation to the songs – it’s a risky prospect, we’re used to Brian in solo acoustic guise – but this is done really well, some songs have a full band sound, which don’t detract from the underlying tune, some remain stripped back – it’s all done very well (I was terrified to see Maty Tustian listed on backing vocals, for example!).  The combination of Brian’s songwriting, the artists’ interpretations of that and the predictably awesome production Joel Howe lends to proceedings gives a polished but authentic collection of songs.

Bravely there’s no tracks from the EP from a couple of years ago reprised here – a couple from the live EP that followed last year do appear here, and rightly so – they are both well deserving of the studio treatment!

Title track Jack of all Trades opens proceedings – guitar and stomp box is classic Brian, an autobiographical reflection on a varied career and lifetime, and a desire for variety.  Some clever rhymes in here (although there are lots of ation words I guess!).  In his sleeve notes he asks whether his (in his view!) failure to excel at any of his past vocations casts doubt on a claim to be a musician now – I think he definitely is!  As the tune develops some bass, drums (courtesy of Joel) and electric guitar beef up the finalé.

I’m Not might lead you to thinking there’s going to be a lot of self-depreciation going on here, but this is a fun tune – it references Nick Parker right at the start, and you can see there’s a bit of his influence here, I could imagine him tackling a song like this (and he’s also a master of self-depreciation and clever wordplay).  Again there’s an underpinning of bass and drums from Joel, and now layered beautifully over the top is some fiddle from Jono Watts of Leatherat fame, with a beautiful instrumental.  I think it is a love song, of sorts!

No Truck kicks in with some lovely lovely lovely finger-picked guitar – which is kind of a false start as it kicks in with a barnstorming stomp, charting the uprising in Wales against paying staff by means they could only spend on goods from the company rather than actual cash.  As ever, when I compare I’m not suggesting plaigerism and maybe it’s the socialist underpinning too (and the spoken word section) brought Parson’s Lot to mind – although vocally Brian is a very different beast to Jethro!  Again Joel adds bass and drums – you’ve got a proper moshable song!

When I saw the title Put a Sock in it! I wondered if it might be inspired by a young fella who will be familiar to lots of my festival friends, especially Pasta, but I think it’s just a happy coincidence!  Again we start with finger-picked guitar – and again it kicks in to a livelier beat with drums and bass, with lyrics highlighting the need for us to pay stuff back and actually help rather than just offer empty platitudes – which I guess with the rise of social media we can all be guilty of at times.  Jonny Wallis appears here too on backing vocals.  Be the best that we can be – it’s not a bad mantra is it?  I suspect this is inspired by the refugee crisis in Europe where I know Brian spent time volunteering.

It’s Down to Us has been making live appearances for a while – the title and chorus refrain is borrowed from Brian Haw.  This is punchy from the off – with bass, drums and bodhran as well as a veritable choir of backing singers. There’s a cunning singalong device in there too where the instrumentation is stripped back over a clapping-track – there’s a few excellent potential crowd participation devices scattered around this album.  It’s an absolutely irresistible foot-tapper and singalong number, I’ve thought that since I first heard it live to be fair – it really stands up well in the studio with the added layers.

Upon this Shore starts with some absolutely gorgeous guitar work – I love it, delicate picking, you can hear the fingers sliding up and down the fret board.  Gentle vocals kick in and it’s a tribute to the wisdom of Brian’s father, gleaned I’m sure from a lifetime but particularly during time spent with him in his final few years.  It’s absolutely beautiful in melody and sentiment – a wonderful tribute to a man who was clearly a huge influence – and a gentle reminder of the limited time we have on this crazy planet.

Perhaps necessarily the pace is picked right up for Give it Up with a full on drums and pass from Joel and bodhran from Maty along with Brian’s guitar.  It’s a compelling argument for accepting some things you can’t control and things always change, and it’s pretty futile to resist it.  Musically I can detect Leatherat-like vibes in there, then when the pre-chorus kicks in there’s a Leylines type of feeling too – all woven together neatly in a Brian Stone package who vocally is very different to either Pete or Steve.  Awesome song.

Far from Home is a prequel to when Brian and Karen finally took perhaps the inevitable plunge and made their home on wheels so they were home whereever they went!  It’s got an initial guitar riff reminiscent of a certain Mr Brookfield song, the percussion drops in gently along with bass and mandolin courtesy of Joel.  Every troubadour needs an ‘on the road’ song – and ideally it needs to be a singalong one – and this delivers on that front in spades, it’s jolly and inspiring – travelling is more about the journey and the people than the destination in most cases.  Much like life!

We’re back on the slow pace – Did She Know? is another slower track, and a tribute to Brian’s mother – another touchingly lovely dedication charting her life right through from childhood to its end.  Clearly a strong and influential lady who was dealt some bloody tough cards early in life – as the song builds so do the layers, we have some bass and backing vocals which really add to the passion without taking away the personal sentiment – it must have been really tough to know whether they’d added ‘too much’ here – for my money they got it spot on, another beautiful tribute.

Interestingly the notes for Under the Sun suggest the chord progression sounds like a Gaz song – I’m not sure I can pin point which one, but certainly the observations in there that the sentiment is similar to his song Frank and Sam are apt.  There’s only so many chords after all, but we’ve got a bit of clever picky bits in between – it might be true that all the best songs have already been written, but there’s always room for a few more.  I quite liked that when he sings “I’ll sing my song, like an old song..” then drops a ‘ba-da ba bada ba!” in there which may or may not be a conscious reference back to Quiet Anarchist from the EP.

Sold Short starts with just guitar chords which almost sound like Gaz Brookfield’s Land Pirate’s Life, but then we get electric guitar stabs and bass and drums that take it somewhere else and pacy lyrics.  It’s a damning appraisal of career politicians – now this is definitely a moshable song, I’d go so far as to say if you added a fiddle layer on here then you’d have a credible sequel to Ferocious Dog’s Spin here – not as in a soundalike, but a nice progression on the narrative and a very bouncy punky song.  This is one of my favourites on here – so I’m glad he persisted with an ‘old song’ that didn’t make it onto his EPs according to the sleeve notes.

We draw to the end with a swashbuckling shanty – a full on sound with Maty on bodhran, Stevie Simpson on mandolin, Joel with mandolin, bass and drums and a big cast of backing vocal pirates – Another Rum Song isn’t exactly a sequel to Why is all the Rum Gone? but a continuation of the rum theme, which any self-professed pirate must life by – it charts an imaginary pirate voyage and name-checks many many English pubs along the journey.  I was going to attempt to count them – and gave up.  I also manage to feature on this track as I along with lots of other folks sent Brian an ‘arrr!’ recording!

And there we have it – twelve songs giving a rollercoaster of pace, sentiment and complexity – Brian showcases here that there’s more to his craft than a solo acoustic guy, there’s band arrangements in here, and it works brilliantly.  And it’s wonderful that the folk who contributed these extra flourishes are all from the said same festival scene we’ve all come to love so much, including the excellent accompanying artwork created by Pete at Non Profit Print.  This is a project I’ve been looking forward to the fruition of for ages, and it was well worth the wait – if you’ve not already pre-ordered then you’re going to want to get yourself a copy.

Jack of all Trades Master of None is out NOW and available from here. I’m sure that the usual digital outlets will follow in good time.  Photos pinched from Brian’s website, and taken by Pete Connor, Chris Rollason and Naomi @ Bang to Rights.

Freeborn Al / 12th October 2018 / Music, Other Bands

New Ferocious Dog song aired by the BBC

Wow, I remembered the login details to this page!

If you didn’t hear the four piece incarnation on Jo Good’s Radio London show earlier, then thankfully Matt was on hand to save a recording as the popularity of the band seems to have broken iPlayer!  Featured is a first live airing (and first acoustic attempt) of one of the songs from their soon-to-be-released album, it’s called The Landscape Artist and was co-written by non other than Jeremy Cunningham from the mighty Levellers.

You can have a listen below – it sounds great, lyrically evocative and a great melody – it’s really whetted the appetite to hear the full band version! Enjoy, and thanks to Matt for grabbing it as by the time I tried to do it iPlayer was broken!  Well done chaps, bodes well for the new album which obviously we’re all ludicrously excited about anyway!

Freeborn Al / 13th September 2018 / Band, Hell Hounds, Interview, Lee Bonsall, Music

The adrenaline of denizen..

I’ve been looking forward to Funke and the Two Tone Baby’s new album – Denizen – ever since he’s talked about creating it.  There’s a few familar songs there from the last year or so of gigs which have evolved over time, and some new ones – and unusually we had the opportunity to hear them all live before getting home to eagerly listen to the recorded version.  Playing the last date of his tour at Bodega in Nottingham last Sunday we all crammed in to see what the fuss was about.

First up though was support act She, Robot – also known as Suzy Condrad – she took to the stage in a sparkly top behind a console of gubbins much like Funke does, and frankly she had me won over from the off.  To start a gig just up the road from where Xylophone Man used to busk (although he actually played a glockenspeil) with the said same instrument, looping it into the mic to open the set with Whose Army, was a sure fire way to win me over.

She effortlessly builds layers of sound and vocals to build an ethereal soundscape – really clever stuff, and really engaging.  Seven Bells was up next, then a Ukulele makes an appearance for Walk of Shame.  A sublime cover of Joy Division’s She’s Lost Control was up next, one of my favourite songs which always means a cover needs to tread carefully – no fear on that score, it was a compelling interpretation.  Breakdown was next, then Fragments and finally forthcoming release Brains.


Freeborn Al / 27th April 2018 / Gigs, Music, Other Bands, Photos, Videos

We the Collective..

There’s always that extra bit of excitement at the prospect of a new Levellers album dropping through the letterbox – unfortunately for me the postie arrived when I wasn’t in over the bank holiday weekend, so impatient I had to resort to iTunes to have a listen before picking up my goodies this morning.  Reading reactions online has been a bit like those irritating Marmite adverts on TV (for the record, I definitely fall into the hate camp for Marmite) – with fans seemingly either loving it or hating it.

Having not made it so far to the live tour – my postponed date in Milton Keynes has been rescheduled for when I’m at a wedding, sadly – so I’m going to have to peruse the fixtures for another suitable date to check it out.  The new arrangements of familiar songs were a surprise to me, and I’d say a very pleasant surprise!  Recorded in the famous Abbey Road under supervision from John Leckie, and some musical assistance from The wonderful Moulettes and Tobias May this is the familiar (mostly) rendered in a very different way.

I can kind of understand people’s cognitive dissonance – the Levellers music has lived with many of us for years, a comfort blanket replete with meaning both in the merit of their own lyrics and melodies or through life events they provided a soundtrack to (or in mosh pits they’ve been danced to in).  I’ll be honest, I struggled when ‘wrestled with our’ became ‘whispered all our’ fears on the 1998 re-release of One Way.  I still bristle a bit when they still sing it that way now (I wonder if they did on the Levelling the Land anniversary tours?  I’ll have to check on the Live CD!).


Freeborn Al / 3rd April 2018 / Music, Other Bands, Photos, Videos

Did you miss Ken and Dan on the radio?

And Alex too, I suppose!  It seems highly apt that The Enemy Within tour took a diversion to the BBC – BBC Radio London, to be precise where presenter Jo Wood spent 20 minutes or so chatting with Ken, Dan and Alex and had them play a few tunes too!  If you missed it, then you can catch up here.

They did a really good job I thought of getting the message out there, and some quality tunes ahead of their data at the 100 Club in that London!


Freeborn Al / 5th March 2018 / Band, Interview, Lee Bonsall, Music

The Pests from the West beat the Beast from the East..

In true British fashion social and mainstream media alike was awash with perhaps rather exaggerated fears regarding the weather, casting doubt on whether the Warsop leg of The Leylines tour would happen.  It’s true some areas of the country really were hammered, but certainly North Nottinghamshire was okay, it put paid to a few acts making it, but some redrafting by Dave and some rearrangements meant a splendid day of music would definitely go ahead – with some hardy souls camping in the car park from the night before!

For our own part, both Ella and Morgan had fairly chunky distances to come – Ella and Becki drove up to mine the night before in occasionally grim conditions, with Nick and Morgan joining us in the morning in plenty of time for a sit and chill before we convoyed up to The Black Market Venue without incident – we could’ve probably squeezed into one car but it proved to come in handy later having two.  Once at the venue there was time to catch up with folk in the bar side before the main room was open.

First up were Darwin’s Rejects – we got Ella and Morgan’s stuff sorted by their stage as they struck up with Phat Bollard’s Millionnaires – I must say they were sounding the most tight I’ve seen ’em, and as a fellow box banger I did have slight envy of Rob’s cymbal/tambourine stand!  A Levellers section comprised Sell Out and then a Leylines style arrangement of Fifteen Years with the slow build up.  Back to grassroots and Ferocious Dog’s Unconditional and Headsticks Cold Grey English Skies were up next.


Freeborn Al / 4th March 2018 / Gigs, Hell Hounds, Lee Bonsall, Music, Other Bands, Photos, Videos

How now, Brown Cow!

This blog post is nearly as horrendously late as I was a week ago to the Roots Acoustic Evening at the Brown Cow in Mansfield, it meant I managed to miss the host, Phil Ashmore and the first act on too, Alan Robinson – but luckily my epic day of driving got me there in time for Sam Jones.  I’ve not seen Sam in solo acoustic guise in ages, and it’s always a treat (and in truth, why I feel motivated to write a blog post more than anything, especially in this venue where I first saw him!).

So once I’d got myself loaded up and my gear out the car (chances are I wouldn’t have made the trek from home to Stevenage and then to Mansfield, but we were playing, you see, under the guise of The Carrot Spies since Kev couldn’t make it, sadly – and frankly we aren’t The Star Copiers without a full compliment of members – lucky we’ve got a gigantic list of anagrams isn’t it?

But anyway, the amazing Sam Jones was up first – he’s such a talented fella.  He was standing in for his dad, Mark, who was feeling under the weather (Sam himself complained of feeling rough too, but it didn’t bring his performance down any that I could see!).  He kicked off with Death of the Free Man, then that lovely cover of Bee’s Wing he busts out for his Mum, Kathie – who was in the crowd to enjoy it, always lovely to see!  I took to Facebook live for this as it’s one of Ella’s favourite songs too (I couldn’t resist getting Lucy in on the act!).


Freeborn Al / 25th February 2018 / Gigs, Hell Hounds, Music, Photos, Politics

Prince of Thieves?

It feels weird not going to see Gaz Brookfield at The Maze in Nottingham – but in full band guise with his fellow Company of Thieves he was on at The Bodega this evening.  We got in to town a bit early to grab some food and meet folk in The Pit and Pendulum for some pre-gig drinks (lime and soda in my case – on driving duty – it’s all so very rock and roll!) – it was great to see so many folk out though, especially Lisa, Paul, Suzy and Bryan who I’ve not seen for a while!

By the time we ambled over to the venue over the road Chris Webb was already underway in an already well populated room – it’s a genuis move of Gaz, recruit people into your band who can also provide not one but two support acts!  I headed to take in his performance and hadn’t realised I was stood directly behind Gaz doing similar, amusing!  Meanwhile I’d become transfixed by watching how Chris strums his guitar, with his hand perpendicular to he guitar but his thumb out to pinch bass tones from the top two strings, whilst alternating picking or ‘flick’ strumming the four thinner strings.

It was mesmerising!  As I said he was underway when I went in, so the first song I picked up was called Breakfast which is from latest album Bungalow.  I’ve already mentioned the clever guitar playing, he’s a clever lyricist too – I couldn’t tell you what they were, but expect to become more au fait as I made sure to pick up a couple of his albums from the merch desk at the end of the gig!  I missed another song title, but then came Heat which had a frankly baffling array of lyrics – not just a feat of memory, but breath control too to get all those words out!  That’s also on Bungalow.


Freeborn Al / 18th February 2018 / Gigs, Music, Other Bands, Photos, Videos

Heeeeeerrrrrrrre’s Jonny!…

Friday night saw a short schlep to Derby to the very welcoming O’Dwyer’s Bar where Jonny Wallis was playing, with support from Morganella.  I had a bit of a senior moment missing the turning to their drive twice, so doing a couple of laps of the neighbourhood before finally landing.  There’s the bar, a proper old skool place where a stage was already set, and some kind of function going on in the building next door.

Jonny and Katie had already got stuff set up and sorted, and once Clan Parry arrived there was a chance to get Morgan’s guitars sorted and he and Ella to get soundchecked.  Folks had started arriving, lovely to see Faye and her family in particular, as well as usual suspects like Amanda, Dean, Sarah, Russ, Michelle and Rob.  A fun hour or so was spent being silly, perhaps regrettably I taught Lucy how to not have all her live videos starting in selfie mode!

Morganella were up first – launching into Daisies and Sunshine in a diversion from starting with a cover version, and I think a good move.  The sound was ace and both Morgan and Ella were looking very comfortable up on stage (the former perhaps because he spent most of the set hiding behind his hair!).  Refuge followed, Ella really not holding back on the vocals in what is a pretty empassioned song.


Freeborn Al / 17th February 2018 / Gigs, Music, Other Bands, Photos

Freeborn Al / 6th February 2018 / Band, Music, Videos

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